A Bit of a Stretch
I won’t deny that I tend to beat around the bush when it comes to my Senran Kagura reviews (probably not the best choice of words), choosing to primarily focus on the core mechanics of whatever SK game it is that I’m looking while only taking carefully timed jabs at the game’s incredibly exposed and overt sexuality. No, I’m not a prude or anything. I appreciate Kenichiro Takaki’s busty babe brawler franchise for what it is, and I always have fun playing the games. But, as big, bouncy, and in-your-face as Senran Kagura’s fan service-focused gameplay is, SK games always offer something else on top of that – like hack-and-slash action or water gun fights – that helps shape them into something truly unique. However, when you strip away all of that uniqueness, leaving only the fan service, you get something much less interesting… Something like Senran Kagura Reflexions.
Now, before you start throwing out accusations, let me set the record straight; I’m not saying that Senran Kagura’s cheeky fanservice is bad; quite the opposite, actually. But jiggling fanservice isn’t generally the only thing going on in these games. At least, not until now. And do you know what? Now that it is, it’s pretty boring. I’m probably going to get a bit of flak for that, but that’s okay. I don’t hate Reflexions or anything – it’s fine for what it is – but a game like this just goes to show that sex appeal alone, even for a game like Senran Kagura, doesn’t ultimately add up to much.
Friends with Benefits
Senran Kagura Reflexions does have a story, but it isn’t anything lengthy. The game’s narrative centers around the player – assuming the role of a “normal” (non-Shinobi) student – who finds themselves called into a classroom after school, only to be met by their totally-not-secretly-a-Shinobi classmate Asuka. She explains to the player that she has been feeling very strange lately, and that she wants to figure out why, but can only truly discern what is going on with the player’s help. And just how is the player supposed to help Asuka? With the power of reflexology – duh.
When it comes to Reflexions, there isn’t too much going on in terms of story. And really that’s too bad, because what is there is enjoyable. The little bit of narrative given to the player throughout Reflexions’ short journey does well with fleshing out (no pun intended) Asuka’s personality, placing the normally plucky girl into a role that is both emotionally vulnerable and incredibly varied – giving players a unique, multidimensional look at the series’ poster child. Unfortunately, it’s precisely because the game does so well with this that it makes it all the more disappointing that they didn’t do more. Given the fact that it’s only a $10 title, I wasn’t expecting the story of the century. Still, I don’t think that adding just a little bit more to the story would hurt anything. Especially since this game helps to show just how much depth the ladies of SK are truly capable of having.
Not surprisingly, the entirety of Reflexions revolves around giving Asuka a massage. Or at least what this game considers a massage to be. These massages, in turn, are broken up into three main parts. The first portion of this intimate adventure revolves entirely around massaging Asuka’s hands (which actually isn’t weird at all if you know anything about reflexology). During hand reflexology, the player is able to massage each of Asuka’s fingers, as well as the palm of her hand. And, depending on where you massage Asuka, you will be able to enter one of seven different fantasy scenarios (or “arcs”, as this game calls them). Hand reflexology, technically speaking, ends up being less of an actual gameplay feature and more of a glorified “level select”, but I suppose that there isn’t really a whole lot that you could do with something like this. For fairness’ sake, it’s worth mentioning that each massage session does randomize where Asuka’s “arc entry points” are, but, outside of that, there isn’t a whole lot going on.
After finishing Asuka’s hand massage, players then move onto Reflexions’ bouncy bread and butter – the body massage. And yes, it’s exactly what you think. Acting as a glorified version of the already well-implemented “Dress-Up Mode” featured within every Senran Kagura game up to date, body massage mode lets you live out your wildest SK fantasies by allowing players to… spin a cosplaying Asuka around and poke her. Okay, okay, you got me. There’s a little more to it than that. The player’s goal during body massage mode is to – what else – help Asuka relax by giving her a massage. This can be accomplished in a number of ways – from sensual arm caresses, to repeatedly slapping Asuka’s ass – but pretty much anything that you do counts as progression. After all, we all know that Asuka’s massage is less for her and more for the player (don’t even act like you’re surprised about that).
To its credit, despite it most definitely just being an excuse for players to get handsy with Asuka (no judgment if that’s your thing!), some of what you do does matter. Each area of Asuka corresponds with a different “mood” during the message (each represented by a different color), with the location of these moods varying somewhat depending on which arc you’re in. And these moods, in turn, affect not only the post-massage flavor text, but the ending of the game as well. This in itself doesn’t really add any kind of difficulty – you can change the mood to your liking once you find the right massage point – but the additional bit of dialogue is appreciated, and it fits in well with a game like Reflexions.
Finally, there are Glorious Massages – and boy are these a doozy. The final act of the three-part massage, Glorious Massages allow players to take Asuka’s erm… “relaxation”… to the most intense possible via a number of interactive mini-games that make admittedly clever use of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. And, in true Senran Kagura fashion, Reflexions makes this as weird as it possibly can. Rather than defaulting to something like a back or shoulder massage, Glorious Massages let players do things like brush Asuka’s arms or use a vibrator on… wait for it… her stomach. Honestly, none of the Glorious Massages look very relaxing. But, as I’ve already stated, Reflexions wasn’t really made with the person receiving the massage in mind. And I can’t say that I won’t be forgetting them any time soon.
Girls and Galleries
Despite how close some of Reflexions may be to the standard SK Dress-Up Mode, it still isn’t a substitute for the proper thing. Fortunately, it’s in this game as well! Falling perfectly in line with the rest of its ilk, Reflexions gives players the ability to dress up Asuka to their liking. Players don’t start out with anything more than what Asuka is wearing, but will unlock new outfits, hairstyles, and more, simply for playing. I would say that something like this isn’t necessary, but who am I kidding? This is a Senran Kagura game that we’re talking about, here – of course this is necessary.
Reflexions also offers a Gallery Mode, allowing players to set up Asuka (and other characters, for those willing to shell out an extra $9.99 per character) in a variety of poses and make use of various backgrounds. It’s pretty neat, and Reflexions does give players quite a few options to help them take that “perfect shot”, but only having access to one character (again, unless you’re willing to pay for more) makes this have much less impact than the galleries of other games. It’s not like its inclusion is a bad thing, though. The more the merrier and all that, right?
Flummoxing Fan Service
Senran Kagura Reflexions doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not. It never lies about the fact that it’s a small, easy, and stress-free game that’s there only to tidalite the senses. And for those who only ever cared about Senran Kagura for the fanservice (as opposed to everyone else, who just mostly cares about it), this game is probably a dream-come-true. However, without any kind of sword-swinging, water gun-firing, or food-cooking action added into the mix, all we’re left with is an interactive gallery with little replay value. So sure, if fanservice (specifically Asuka fanservice) is all you care about then go for it. But for the rest of you out there who want a little more depth with your gratuitous, fanservice, then Reflexions might not leave you feeling very satisfied.
FINAL VERDICT: 2.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games. ; Developer: Marvelous, Inc. ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 13, 2018 ; ESRB: $9.99 ; MSRP: M for Mature
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Senran Kagura Reflexions given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.